A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Foreign Student Issues Regarding Social Security Card, Driver’s License and I-20s



Recently, some F and M students have encountered problems when applying for a Social Security number (SSN) or driver’s license. AILA reported that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is aware of these difficulties and is working with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program on a solution that will be implemented on September 14, 2012. 

For  F and M students who had problems applying for a SSN and / or driver’s license, they now have two options:  Number one, they can wait until September 14, 2012 after the solution is implemented and then return to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Social Security Administration (SSA) office in their state to reapply again. Secondly, they may also send an email to this email address at Department of Homeland Security - dmvssa.sevp@ice.dhs.gov – and ask for assistance.  However, be warned that this option may take longer time to generate a response.  They should include the following information in the email: 1. Benefit requested (SSN or driver’s license) 2. Family name 3. First name 4. Date of birth 5. Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” admission number (11 digits) 6. SEVIS ID 7. Applicant’s physical address (required), phone number (required), and e-mail 8. Address of the office where problem occurred (and the name of the officer, if known) 9. Date of the latest visit to office. 

Separately, there has been a change in the I-20 stamping policy at airports and other U.S. ports of entry for foreign students.  Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for academic and language students, and Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students are official U.S. government forms that serve as evidence of a foreign student’s acceptance by a certified U.S. school.  Before a foreign student can study in the U.S., he or she must first apply for a Form I-20 from an SEVP-certified school.  In order to apply for an Form I-20, foreign students are usually required to produce academic documents such as high school diploma and college transcripts, financial support documents such as bank statements showing sufficient funds, and proof of English proficiency such as TOEFL scores. 

For many years, it has been the former INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) and current CBP (Customs and Border Patrol)’s policy to stamp a foreign student’s I-20 and I-94 whenever the student is admitted into the U.S. as a student.   For example, an F-1 student’s I-20 is usually stamped “D/S” or duration of status to signify that the student is allowed to stay in the U.S. for the duration of his or her studies.   Sometimes, an actual expiration date may also be stamped on the I-20 such as in the case of an M-1 student. 

CBP is no longer stamping the I-20 due to the implementation of the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS).  It appears that ELIS keeps track of foreign students’ status electronically and therefore no longer requires the physical stamping of I-20s.  As such, CBP has ceased the practice of I-20 stamping at the ports of entry.   Foreign students should no longer expect that their I-20 be stamped upon approval of their change of status or their return to the U.S.  If they encounter any issues with other government agencies (e.g., DMV, SSA), they should follow the above mentioned guidelines for resolution.  For issues relating to their driver’s licenses, they could also contact the Office of Public Engagement of USCIS for assistance.  The driver’s license is one of the most important documents used in the U.S., especially for foreign students.  The driver’s license does not only allow the holder to drive legally in the U.S., it also serves as an ID document that is required for many different situations.  Foreign students should plan ahead of time if they need to apply for a new driver’s license or for a replacement.  In light of the recent changes in government policies, it is even more important to apply early.

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